For the past 16 years, the Big Brother entertainment franchise has thrilled Nigerians, first as Big Brother Africa and now as Big Brother Nigeria. Despite widespread criticism of the show by Nigerians, it continues to garner huge viewership.
The show debuted in Nigeria in 2006 without much commercial success and was discontinued. It was brought back in 2017 as Big Brother Naija 2 and has since become a sensation on Nigeria’s airwaves.
There is a lot of reasons to hate the Big Brother show in Nigeria. Many people have criticized it for stimulating practices alien to the African culture and values. While there are usually several activities going in the Big Brother House that one can draw positive lessons from, Nigerians are often more fixated on the negative and controversial.
Every year, the Big Brother show attracts condemnation from a large section of the country’s population. You hardly find any serious mature adult that acknowledges watching the show regularly in Nigeria, yet it gets huge viewership and rakes in lots of revenue. The stakes and prize money also keep increasing with more sponsors every year.
One of the largest uproars against the show occurred in 2007, when Big Brother Africa 2 attracted the ire of the Nigerian Senate after 29-year-old Ofunneka was sexually assaulted by fellow housemate Richard when all the housemates were drunk. The producers of the show deny this, stating it was with Ofunneka’s consent, but fellow housemate Maureen was seen screaming for help after she tried to get Richard off Ofunneka. Despite
The latest criticism of the Big Brother Naija 2019 is coming from the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), which has described the show as Satanic because it encourages open romance, kissing and sex. I have come across many Nigerians, who though consider MURIC’s stance as extreme, see the show as contributing nothing of value to humanity and therefore, see no reason why it should be shown.
To understand the obsession of Nigerians with this show and why it has exposed some of our unacknowledged idiosyncrasies, it is pertinent to briefly examine its origin.
Big Brother was originally a Dutch TV series created by producer John de Mol in 1997. The series follows a diverse group of contestants, known as House Guests, who are living together in a custom-built home under constant surveillance. The House Guests are completely isolated from the outside world and can have no communication with those not in the house. The series takes its name from the ‘Big Brother’ character in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and it was originally designed as a social experiment to understand human behaviour under certain conditions.
The show is therefore, a parallel to George Orwell’s novel, which offers a vision of a bleak future where citizens were under constant state surveillance, and where the government has absolute power. Just like the Big Brother in the book and the show, Nigerians like to see what others are doing and yet keep their own dealings away from the public.
Have we ever asked ourselves why Nigerians watch this show so much despite claiming that they don’t like it? Why did indigenous Nigerian business entities like BetNaija and Innoson drop millions of naira to sponsor the Big Brother Naija 2019? Why do we stay glue to our TVs late at night to catch the moment that Gedoni is kissing Khaffi and then tell everyone else that they are doing rubbish? Why do out eyes light up whenever Mercy struts across the screen but castigate her as having surgically enhanced butts? Why is Tacha the Instagram model/eye candy confident we will vote for her each time she is up for eviction despite us calling her ‘Olosho’ every time her raunchy Instagram photos stare us in the face? The answer may be deeper and darker than the majority of us like to admit; Nigerians are voyeuristic in nature and Big Brother has unleashed that part of us we hate to admit.
Voyeurism is the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity. According to Healthline, the interest is usually more in the act of watching, rather than in the person being watched. The person doing the watching is called a voyeur, but you might hear them casually referred to as a peeping Tom. Healthline describes uncontrolled voyeurism as a psychological disorder.
We are a conservative and religious people who like to uphold morals and cultural values in practice and always pride ourselves in not tolerating the decadent hedonism prevalent in the Western world. Yet we secretly admire some of those things we openly abhor. A comedian once said that if you show a Nigerian man a naked woman, he will openly express disgust but once there is nobody around, he will gladly go and peep admiringly at what he had earlier criticised as bizarre.
Our obsession with the Big Brother show has revealed that a sizeable number of Nigerians are voyeuristic. Like the Big Brother, Nigerians want to see other people at their lowest point yet allow only the world to see their own high points. Nigerians love to see others at their moment of shame yet hate it when the light is beamed on their own source of shame. In the end, Big Brother does not contradict our values as we so claim, rather it is a reflection of what we have become as a society with our hypocrisy.
Peter Sunday is a Nigerian writer and literary critic.